Home / Dale Ahlquist / The Monster

 

For any critic of modern America, Wal-Mart is an easy target. (There is a pun there somewhere.)

Begun by Sam Walton in 1962 in Bentonville, Arkansas, Wal-Mart has grown to such proportions that there are now 4,700 stores all over the world, with over 1.3 million employees. It has such economic dominance in America that it owns 30% of the consumer staples market and almost 20% of all music and video sales. Even big companies like Clorox, Del Monte and Dial make a quarter of their yearly sales through Wal-Mart.

This conglomerate has closely followed John D. Rockefeller’s dictum, “Competition is a sin.” All across America, small, locally-owned shops in quaint downtowns have been boarded up, swallowed by the Whale-Mart that surfaced from a sea of blacktop just beyond the city limits. City councils try to find ways to stop Wal-Mart from marching into their communities, but (new metaphor) an elephant tends to sit wherever it wants. Now the medium-sized retailers are also being crushed.

Most of us are probably familiar with the litany of accusations against Wal-Mart. This includes not just bad publicity and snobbish complaints, but charges of serious corruption and villainy. A class action suit was filed in early November 2003 against Wal-Mart after a Federal 21-state raid arrested 250 illegal immigrants working as janitors in 60 stores. In Southern California, over seventy thousand striking grocery workers blame Wal-Mart’s predatory ways for forcing the three other major supermarket chains to cut their health benefits. Also, there are notorious accounts of Wal-Mart’s efforts to stop or hinder unionizing activities among its workers.

Defenders of the biggest of the big box retailers say this is simply the free market in action. But it isn’t. It is the Servile State in action. It is the unholy marriage of Big Business and Big Government. What the defenders of the “free” market either don’t know or don’t mention is that Wal-Mart costs taxpayers a lot of money because of its rock bottom wage levels. According to one congressional report, taxpayers pay around $420,000 a year for each Wal-Mart store employing 200 people. The costs include money for Section 8 housing assistance, free lunch programs, tax credits for low-income families, education funds and subsidies for energy assistance.

Capitalism creates holes; Socialism fills them. It’s a fascinating equation. You stretch that dollar to buy as much Chinese-made merchandise as possible and your taxes will take care of the clerk. The prices are cheap, the products are cheap, the workers are cheap, and Sam Walton’s widow and four children have a combined net worth of $100 billion. Is this a great country or what?

The plodding assault of a giant retailer is not exactly a new phenomenon. G.K. Chesterton eloquently expressed his scorn for the big shops in Utopia of Usurers:

The big commercial concerns of today are quite exceptionally incompetent. They will be even more incompetent when they are omnipotent. Indeed, that is, and always has been, the whole point of a monopoly; the old and sound argument against a monopoly. It is only because it is incompetent that it has to be omnipotent.

So, can anything be done about this?

Two things would help: The Leftist elite could stop calling on the Government to bust up Wal-Mart. And the Rightist elite could stop excusing everything that Wal-Mart does. But since neither of those things is going to happen, it is up to us common folk to clean up the mess that we have created.

Yes, we created it. You see, Wal-Mart does not get all the blame, even if it gets all the money. We are the ones who keep giving it all that money. In our lust for the lowest price, we have (third and last metaphor) created a monster. We have fed the monster. And now the monster is eating our villages.

If you know anything about monsters, you know that they usually have to be destroyed by torch-carrying citizens from the town, that is, by people who suddenly wake up and realize that have to regain control of their lives. Self-government means self-control. It applies to commerce as much as it does to politics.

We have to limit what we buy and we have to be more selective about where we buy it. Whenever possible, we have to support the smaller, locally-owned business. Whenever possible, we have to be the smaller, locally-owned business. We have to hold local government accountable. We have to be local government. We have to explain this to other people. We have to wake them up and give them a torch and tell them to join us. Tell them people about the common-sense vision of Distributism.  Mention Gilbert Magazine perhaps.

It is not the government that is going to fix this problem. Or a market adjustment. It is you. And you. And you.

 

About the author: Dale Ahlquist

 

Dale Ahlquist is the president of the American Chesterton Society. He is the creator and host of the Eternal Word Television Network series, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense" on EWTN. Dale is the author of three books, including Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton, the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, and co-founder of Chesterton Academy, a new high school in Minneapolis. He and his wife have six children.

 

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14 Comments

  1. Dale, with all due respect, this seems very Utopian. I’m inclined to agree with the “Leftist elite” (whoever that is) in saying break up Wal-Mart. Or actually, a better solution would be to give shares of the company to a wide assortment of people, and they can change it or break it up as they see fit.
    Viking

  2. Dear Vi King, the solution you propose, that the, let´s say, “monster” could be a property of many people, is the “Mondragon” solution. In Spain Mondragon, a cooperative that has become a multinational businness, has the Eroski shops, that are similar to Wal-Mart or any other megastore. But this Eroski shops are also helping to destroy the small local businness whenever they are. So, in my opinion, the problem is not the property, is the size. “Human-size” shops and business(in Schumacher words) should be incentivated by both consumers and goverments. Of course the perfect distributist society when all shops are family-run is an utophia, but so is the perfect capitalism(and paradoxically monopoly and oligopoly are in fact both the result and the enemy of the freemarket) and socialism.

  3. Though the congressional report is not without its critics. The prime one is that is was performed only by Dems. who have an interest in knocking Wal-Mart. (Can anyone say Unions.) It would be good to look at the report and its data.

    And then there’s this (admittedly commissioned by Wal-Mart:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1516392/posts

  4. http://m.youtube.com/index?desktop_uri=%2F&gl=US#/watch?v=fpco64tPUKA

    http://m.youtube.com/index?desktop_uri=%2F&gl=US#/watch?v=0lMfoA5ZozE

    I feel optimistic about the future of small business in America if the government doesn’t become too involved. The thing about markets is that we make them; we are the economy. We can decide to go with the best service and products, and I fundamentally believe that small business often provides them. Not everything has to be done by force (which is all that any government can ever go on).

  5. I found this story to quit timely considering the subject brought up here http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/04/28/benzinga1041705.DTL

    The doctrine of low wages ultimately doesn’t work just how this foreign idea because “Conservative” orthodoxy I find bizarre.

  6. Felice Centofanti

    there is big-retail in europe, as a reminder.
    we need to focus on one very important basic issue
    for all people in the usa…
    i will send this to my local government officials;
    they are entrusted to do the right thing by us and
    at least look to a society such as europe
    that cares for its’ sick.

  7. There are many other factors involved. Personally, I do not ever use loyalty promotion cards, Wal-Mart has an official position that they will never use them. All of the local grocery stores have them now, so that jacks up the prices for anyone who doesn’t want them selling and tracking their buying habits.

  8. I happily support the Walmart “monster” with my business and plan to continue to do so; you see, I “lust” not to get ripped off by the inflated prices that small, inefficient stores charge. Apparently, to the author, that makes me the Antichrist. So be it.

    The author’s bias is clearly revealed by the statement “Capitalism creates holes; Socialism fills them.” Oh yeah, socialism has done a GREAT job of filling holes around the world: cemeteries there are doing a booming business.

  9. “According to one congressional report, taxpayers pay around $420,000 a year for each Wal-Mart store employing 200 people. ”

    No, congress and company STEAL $420K a year from productive people (non-productive people don’t pay taxes) and gives it away. Blaming the actions of congress on Wal-Mart isn’t very logical.

  10. It seems to me that Mr. Ahlquist was not at all advocating for Socialism. Anyone who knows the Distributist mind knows that the Distributist does not advocate for Socialism or big government.

    When he says, “Capitalism creates holes; Socialism fills them”, Mr. Ahlquist is simply pointing out how, when big business fails, it is bailed out or supported by big government. Sound familiar in America?

  11. You are getting ripped off by Wal-Mart JDL. It relies on state-capitalism, which is a system that uses a good deal of the average person’s labour and a sets on a good deal of restrictions on them in order to survive. Wal-Mart for instance cannot afford those low prices without long supply chains at artificially low cost. This can’t exist without massive and chronic state intervention, more often than not in ways disproportionately beneficent to the likes of Wal-Mart(for instance road building and maintenance that is paid for by average road-users rather than heavy trucks that do more damage and get more profit relative to their use of the road and what they pay for its up-keep – these sorts of intervention are multiplied to an almost indefinite amounts in corporate-capitalism!).

  12. Big box retailers monopolistic power is even more harshly felt by suppliers who have to bow and scrape to feed these monsters. In Australia we have 2 supermarket chains that control over 80% of all retail spend. They are now diversifying into hardware and making deals with petrol stations and even the two main airlines.
    This of course will result in further squeezing of any reamining small players.
    The one light at the end of the tunnel is the beginning of the end of cheap Chinese labour, particularly once they hit the demographic point of no return in around 2016 when more workers leave the workforce than join it. Japan hit this point around 1991 and has, at best, stagnated ever since.

    @JdL – of course, it’s all about you!!!

  13. JdL,

    The author is against socialism. He was making the point that the wholes that Wal-Mart creates by paying wages lower than the cost of living has to be filled by government programs. Read before you post.

  14. Richard Aleman

    It isn’t very logical to ignore that Wal-Mart lobbied for those subsidies in the first place